2009 is the 70th anniversary of the birth of Blue Note, the label founded in New York by German emigre Alfred Lion. During its mid-1950s to mid-1960s heyday, it was practically synonymous with hard bop, nurturing a great many of its leading artists and recording dozens upon dozens of classic albums. 2009 is also the 25th anniversary of the relaunch of Blue Note under the leadership of Bruce Lundvall.
To mark the occasion, Blue Note assembled the seven-piece band which recorded Mosaic: A Celebration of Blue Note
and which starts a 50-city North American tour on January 7. The band's repertoire consists exclusively of standards from Blue Note's hard bop archive, while its line-up is composed not of surviving first-generation label veterans, but of relatively young musicians steeped in its legacy.
Musical direction is credited to pianist and current Blue Note artist Bill Charlap, but he appears to be first amongst equals rather than martinet with a metaphorical baton. Five of the eight tracks on Mosaic
were arranged by band members other than Charlapdrummer Lewis Nash, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, alto saxophonist Steve Wilson and guitarist Peter Bernsteinwhile Charlap arranged another, and fellow pianist and Blue Note artist Renee Rosnes the remaining two. By and large, the arrangements stay close to the original recorded versions, as do the trajectories of the soloists. The intention is not to "reinvent" the music, but simply to celebrate it. Most of the tracks last around seven minutes and include three or four brief solos.
The album kicks off with two energetic, up tempo readings: pianist Cedar Walton's "Mosaic," written for Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, and tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson's "Inner Urge." They're both exciting, attention-grabbing curtain raisers, but it's on the more reflective and moderately-paced tracks which follow where the band really shines. Pianist McCoy Tyner's "Search For Peace" (arranged by Rosnes), vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson's "Little B's Poem" (arranged by Wilson) and pianist Duke Pearson's "Idle Moments" (arranged by Bernstein), the latter written for guitarist Grant Green, are each gorgeous.
"Idle Moments," the sublimely chilled-out and lyrical title track from Green's 1963 album with Henderson and Hutchersonwhich also included an exquisite version of pianist John Lewis' "Django"is a particularly hard track to revisit with conviction, so enduringly perfect is the original version. But Bernstein turns in an extended solo which, though following the contours of Green's original, is more than a clever pastiche.
Of the edgier tracks, pianist Thelonious Monk's "Criss Cross," first recorded by Monk for Blue Note in 1951 and the oldest composition on the album, is the most memorable. Charlap avoids imitating Monk, contributing instead a fine solo in his own clear-eyed style.
Following the North American tour, which ends with a six-night run in mid-April at Birdland in New York, the Blue Note 7 will take the tour to Europe in the fall of 2009.